HONG KONG is a people place. Literally people everywhere.
As my wife and I excitedly waited for this year´s Chinese New Year parade to start in the city, it seemed as though the near one and a half billion people living in China had joined us.
We were standing in our preferred Tsim Sha Tsui location in Central near where the Star ferries criss-cross the busy harbour waters between the main Hong Kong island and the neighbour Khowloon district 10 minutes away on the Chinese mainland.
It is also where the ritziest shops are. “Last time we were in Hong Kong for the Chinese New Year it was the year of the Rat, the animal sign you were born under,” my wife said with the saintly smile she uses for all put downs.
This year’s 2012 celebrations a few days ago saw the arrival of the Dragon, her birth sign. The sound of fire crackers and fireworks – invented by the Chinese – was deafening and we were surrounded by not only people, but red and gold lanterns, streamers and balloons as police held back the crowds.
Chants of Kung Hei Fat Choi (Happy New Year in Cantonese) rang out as midnight approached and spectators – including many young and old traditionally dressed in local costumes – waited to see the parade pass.
While many businesses in Hong Kong – a British run colony until the late 1990s when it was returned to the Chinese – close during the Chinese New Year celebrations, for the rest of the year, 24/7, it thrives on business.
Shopping is world famous and for those equally interested in food, a plethora of restaurants abound along with world class and street-level accommodation from swish hotels to cheap hostels.
And everywhere there are people… and still more people. Some sanctity can be offered from the amazing 24-hour vibrancy of Hong Kong island at Victoria Peak – reached by road or via the funicular steeply inclined Peak Tram –which offers breath-taking views of the sky-scraper ridden city below.
Skyscrapers – built not using traditional Western-style scaffolding but with bamboo sticks – spear the mist that at times hangs over the harbour at this time of year.
It has been described as ‘A dream of Manhattan, arising from the South China Seas’. Such views make properties on The Peak among the world´s most expensive, but they have the added bonus of providing some respite when the local weather is overly humid, as it often is.
A ride on a Chinese fishing junk is memorable, and also down in the harbour the Jumbo floating restaurant offers authentic to-die-for Chinese food. Meanwhile Lantau Island appeals to many.
Easily reached by ferry, bus or the Mass Transit Railway (underground) it includes an enclave with a 26 metre high bronze Buddha at the top of 268 steps.
Nearby vegetarian meals are served with monks as fellow diners, and the tiny fishing village of Tai O, with traditional stilt houses, is also worth visiting.
Chi Li Monastery offers an oasis of peace away from the noise and bustle of Hong Kong with beautiful gardens and a total contrast is afternoon tea at the Peninsular Hotel, where waiters and waitresses dressed in colonial style white jackets serve sandwiches and cakes from silver three-tier stands.
But be prepared to queue and also to dig deep for an edifying experience, with tea for two costing HK$ 388 (€39).
Happy Valley Horse Racecourse, Causeway Bay with its towering buildings and Times Square and Orchid Square are also worth visits, while Ocean Amusement Park boasts plenty for all ages, including a compound of giant pandas.
There is also a local Disneyland, styled on the original in California. Hong Kong day and night, from spring to summer, is full of contrasts, offering literally something for everyone. A must see on every travellers wish list.
Shop till you drop
FOR shoppers, Hong Kong has something for everyone. Hand-made suits can be run up in a day, the huge shopping malls offer everything from cheap plastic toys to diamond encrusted mobile phones.
But whether shopping for Versace, Prada, Rolex or Boss, or the latest computer and camera technology, compare the prices in the various shops, and away from the main outlets, always see if you can bargain on the asking price.
Street markets abound, including Temple Street Night Market and Stanley Market which are famous for bargains, though many of them copies, plus the Jade Market.
Wonderful Chinese arts and crafts are everywhere and make fabulous gifts and souvenirs.
JUST one-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong is Macau, a former Portuguese colony.
This is China’s answer to Las Vegas, with huge casinos with cabarets starring some of the worlds top artists, and around the clock gambling, a popular Chinese pass-time.
Streets and shops names- in keeping with much of the architecture – is Portuguese, and in wonderful contrast to the Macau Tower and the outlandish casino buildings.
Fast facts: Hong Kong Population: 7 million Languages: Chinese, English Currency: Hong Kong Dollar (HKD)